Posts Tagged ‘Paul Dano’

rsz_1rsz_screen-shot-2015-04-13-at-100638-am-e1428934141259Someone should really take away Paulo Sorrentino’s passport. Just quietly remove it from his bedside desk, perhaps hide it under the sofa, anything to stop him from getting on a plane with it. Whenever Sorrentino seems to take flight from his native Italy, things seem to go wrong. His characters become caricatures, his witty dialogue becomes tedious and his profound ruminations merely silly.

Sorrentino wrote the main role especially for Michael Caine, but it’s difficult to see why. Caine plays Fred Ballinger, a retired composer residing in a luxury resort in rural Switzerland. Stoic and stubborn, Ballinger watches with detached amusement at the circus of well-to-do freaks that drift through the resort. He’s joined by his lifelong friend Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), a fading but zestful movie director and his daughter Lena (Rachel Weisz), who acts as his assistant. Paul Dano plays a jaded Hollywood starlet hiding from himself and the world, and even grumposaurus musician Mark Kozelek makes an appearance.

Youth, like The Great Beauty, has simultaneously little story and too much of it. The essential thread of the film is Ballinger’s conflict over accepting an invitation from the Queen to perform one final concert. The reasons behind this reluctance are unclear, and like Toni Servillo in The Great Beauty, Ballinger is a somewhat passive, ponderous protagonist. Elsewhere, Boyle wants to make one final film, his last shot at a great piece of art, by cajoling some obnoxious young writers to help him conceive it.

The main problem with Youth is that it’s difficult to care about any of the characters or their woes. Sorrentino is a director who takes risks, he throws some left turns, surprises the audience, and in most of his previous films these risks have blossomed and soared. However, when they fall flat, they fall really, really flat. Ballinger and Boyle’s pretensions are neither charming nor interesting, and it is somewhat sickly that a middle aged director has sought to convey the complexities of old age.

There is the occasional brilliant moment, such as a fantastic dream sequence in which Ballinger crosses a flooded piazza to meet the gaze of a beauty queen, but these are few and far between. Caine and Keitel are not bad actors but with the pretentious, muddled dialogue they are given by Sorrentino they are made to look foolish. Paul Dano is one of the only actors to come out with any credit; his turn as Jimmy Tree, the lost starlet, is strange and serene. There is the delicate, mournful tones of Kozelek’s fingerpicking to add a touch of pathos to proceedings.

The swooping, elegant camera of Sorrentino’s previous films has vanished. This is replaced by banal static shots, to emphasise the mundanity of life in the resort and the sedateness of old age. Which is a shame, because Sorrentino is at his best when he glides like a bird. If The Great Beauty was pure, sentimental and expressive then Youth is over-thought out, ponderous and dull. The grass is not always greener on the other side.

 

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Film Review 12 Years a SlaveSince Steve McQueen first delivered to our screens Hunger (2008) and later Shame (2011) there was a raw, great talent yearning to be established. Utilising his Art School learnings and ambition, and having won the Turner Prize award in 2006, McQueen in his previous two feature films had already established a niche to the burgeoning auteur inside. He was the man most likely to.

So when it was announced he was being given a large, partly Brad Pitt funded, budget to adapt the memoirs of Solomon Northup’s 12 Years a Slave, expectations were understandably high. McQueen has taken on the political and personal of the human condition, here his aim is to combine the two in to the most prolonged institution of inequality known to man, it’s roots still felt centuries later in the present, and in the directors own words make a film about slavery because it “is a very important subject which hadn’t been given any visual platform when I started to make the film.”

In a year where exploring America’s horrific slave-owning past was wide-spread from the eyes of white diplomats (Spielberg’s Lincoln) or in violent buddy comedies (Tarantino’s Django Unchained) nothing even remotely comes close to how vital this film is. It’s almost difficult to explain, such an unbelievable experience is the film that it’s pretty tough to find the words to do it justice. Never in my life, certainly of Hollywood “blockbusters”, has a film managed to be so striking, so convincing, unsentimental and ultimately, so crucial.

Steve McQueen has created a triumph here; managing to control such a difficult subject and presenting it with stark realism, as well as a frankly incredible cast. Long-term collaborator Michael Fassbender gives his trademark stunning performance from as the abhorrent yet tangibly human, self-loathing slave-driver Edwin Epps. Elsewhere Benedict Cumberbatch, Paul Dano and a break-out performance from the fragile heroine Lupita Nyong’o all seem to relish the opportunity to work with such a monumental director and story. Even Brad Pitt manages his annual attempt to derail a great film with his presence, just about getting away with being the only person who doesn’t seem to fit.

Crucially though, this film would be nothing without it’s central lead performance from Chiwetelu Ejiofor as the (sub-)titular Soloman Northup. The film would quite simply fall apart without his incredibly moving role. If we do not believe in the British actor’s immersing into a world a long way prior to African-American’s rights, then the impact would be lost and seem gratuitous. Set 20 years or so before abolition, as a freedman in the North who is educated and a talented artist, Solomon is stripped of his human traits and slowly re-builds his character to remain both defiant and survive. He is dehumanised, made to make unspeakably awful decisions and finally give in when all seems lost, all conveyed from a range of subtle moves from Ejiofor.

This is felt no more resolutely, not just at the moments of extreme violence and suffering inflicted towards Northup, but when, at his lowest, he joins his fellow slaves in a gospel song which rattles around the periphery of much of the film. It may not seem much, but complexities in his deciding to sing because there’s nothing else left to do but to assimilate into his forced community, is such a powerful, bitter-sweet moment that it typifies the unrelentingly cruel struggle we observe. When we do reach the narrative’s climax with Northup, it is an incredibly moving moment, after every inch of trauma over the previous two hours has been felt and culminating in one of the most uplifting and upsetting final scenes recorded to film.

But make no mistake, 12 Years a Slave is an unapologetically brutal film. The film’s trailers intentionally do not pay justice to what a difficult watch this film often is. And yet it is completely essential to the film to feel every injustice served against not just this man, but an entire race in disrepute over where they stand. For instance, Alfre Woodward as the house mistress seems to actively enjoy her role as a sexually exploited African-American, such are the fleshed-out complexities served to every character, regardless how small a role.

Whereas Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ was violent to the point of exploitation, here it serves an important message of, to some extent, guilt but also realism. These horrific experiences are lifted almost directly from Soloman Northup’s real autobiography detailing his (and others) harrowing ordeal. Epps’ brutal wife (played exquisitely by Sarah Paulson – who should be nominated for best supporting actress at the Oscars) is often the purveyor of shocking white supremacist violence, adding yet more layers to this incredibly complex issue and period.

Ultimately, 12 Years a Slave is surely the most deserving film to sweep up at awards season (not that the Academy always work with logic). Nelson Mandela’s biopic’s timing notwithstanding, 12 Years a Slave is an important film that should be viewed by as many people as possible. I fear of talking it up too much, but I feel that the torrent of hugely positive reviews that will surely follow in this country (and already exists in America with a staggering 96% on rotten tomatoes) should make this happen. Such a stunning film McQueen has created here, he and his actors will surely get the recognition they deserve in handling such a delicate story with such integrity.

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With his third feature Looper director Rian Johnson transitions from indie darling to high-concept-sci-fi-helmer. The film is an ambitious affair with Joseph Gordon Levitt playing Bruce Willis and Bruce Willis playing, well Bruce Willis. The film with its neo-noir styling reminds us of classics from days gone by (think The Terminator, Blade Runner and 70s Spielberg), but it fails to become the rollercoaster ride to do the genre justice.

Joseph Gordon Levitt plays Joe. He works as a Looper, which is the name for a futuristic kind of hitman. Existing in 2044, thirty years before the invention of time travel Joe is employed by gangs to assassinate people who have been transported back in time, before disposing of their bodies (bodies which are not known to have existed in the first place). Bruce Willis is also Joe, existing in 2074, during the era of time travel. The trouble comes when Willis’ Joe returns to be killed by his former self and promptly escapes.

The concept sounds convoluted, but Johnson handles it efficiently with an entertaining setup and a succinct voiceover from Gordon-Levitt. The most startling element is Levitt’s bizarre uncanny resemblance to Willis, achieved seemingly with the aid of prosthetics, as well as Gordon-Levitt’s ability to mimic Hollywood action heroes. Johnson also casts Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood) as a fellow Looper, who pulls out a familiar, yet entertaining hysterical performance.

Looper becomes somewhat less entertaining in the second act. While searching for Willis, Gordon-Levitt stumbles upon a farm home to Sara (Emily Blunt) and her son Daniel (Kamden Beauchamp). In narrative terms these scenes are among the most important in the film, yet there is a feeling of stagnation as Gordon-Levitt’s hunt for Willis decelerates. The dynamic between Gordon-Levitt and Blunt also fails to spark with any great authenticity and their relationship develops in an unconvincing manner.

Simultaneously the relationship between Willis’ Joe and his main love interest emerges simply to motivate the plot, rather than offer any emotional engagement. There is a sense that when the stakes should be at their highest, Looper is actually at its least engaging. Only at its end does Johnson turn Looper around with great effect, engaging us with a tense and spectacularly original showdown.

Jean-Luc Godard famously said: “a film should have a beginning, a middle and an end but not necessarily in that order.” With Looper Rian Johnson has created a great beginning and a great end, if only there was a great middle there to close the loop.

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